History of Taxco Silver
The history of silver in Taxco (pronounced tahs-ko) is a fascinating combination of legend and fact. Officially called Taxco del Alarcón, Taxco's name comes from the Nahuatl "Tlachco," meaning "place where ball is played." The original site of Tlachco is now called Taxco Viejo, and is south of the city. Taxco is nestled in the Atache Mountains between Acapulco and Mexico City, in the state of Guerrero. Taxco is one of the oldest mining sites located in the Americas. Over the years Taxco has managed to retain its natural charm; with its colonial ambiance, red-tiled roofs, and cobblestone, winding streets.
Throughout the day, the town is bustling with VW taxis, street merchants, and shoppers from Mexico City and beyond. Yet, for centuries it was the region's wealth of silver that attracted foreigners. The first mine in the region opened in 1524 in what is now Taxco's central plaza, by the direct order of Hernán Cortes, who had discovered that the Aztecs of this region had been using silver coins for centuries.
By the end of the century, silver from Taxco had spread across Europe, and remote Taxco was renowned for its wealth of silver. It had become Spain's primary source in the New World of precious metals and had become a busy mining area. Mining gradually decreased in the Taxco area as other richer and more accessible mining areas were discovered and developed, and eventually Taxco faded out for almost 200 years.
In 1716 Don Jose de la Borda (a Spaniard of French descent) rediscovered silver in Taxco, when as legend has it, he was riding and wandering in the hills of Taxco and he spotted a rich silver vein. He struck a fortune in Taxco and in gratitude built schools, roads, and houses. The most famous is the beautiful Santa Prisca Cathedral, an ornate cathedral with lots of gold trim in the Spanish Baroque style. The church can be seen from all over Taxco; it glitters in the sunlight and has become a focal point for the zocalo. Today, Don Jose is still considered the "father" of Taxco.
During Mexico's 19th century war for Independence the Spanish barons destroyed their mines rather than lose them to the revolutionaries, and the art of silver work died out in Taxco for quite some time. Then in the late 1920's the highway from Mexico City finally reached Taxco and in 1926, William Spratling, a U.S. citizen and associate architecture professor from Tulane University arrived in Taxco to study Mexico and its culture. In 1929 he moved to Mexico and was welcomed into the influential artistic circles of Mexico. In 1931 U.S. Ambassador Dwight Morrow commented to Mr. Spratling that Taxco had been the site of silver mines for centuries, but unfortunately had never been considered a location where jewelry and objects of silver were designed and made. This seemingly insignificant comment changed the course of Taxco's artistic and economic history.
Mr. Spratling discovered the potential talent in the locals and motivated the community artisans to create designs and rediscover the craft of being a silversmith. With his own designs he created an apprentice system of training young silversmiths with artistic talent and gave them the opportunity to develop their skill. He brought in from Iguala a highly regarded goldsmith to teach the art of working precious metal. The great beauty and craftsmanship coming out of Taxco earned worldwide recognition and fame once again for Mexico. Over time many of these artisans opened workshops and stores of their own- all encouraged by his unwavering support. Now considered the great old masters of Mexican Silver, Mr. Antonio Pineda along with former fellow apprentices the Castillos, Ledesma, and Chino Ruiz have produced and continue to craft some of the most highly regarded, collectable pieces of art, vases, serving sets and jewelry. Their work continues to inspire the next generation of silversmiths and artisans who now number in the hundreds.
William Spratling passed away in 1967 due to a car accident just outside his beloved Taxco. Throughout Mexico Spratling is widely regarded as "The Father of Mexican Silver". A silver bust of Mr. Spratling resides in the town's silver museum, alongside images of Don Jose de la Borda, and The Spratling Museum behind the Santa Prisca Cathedral, houses the Spratling Collection of silver and Pre-Columbian figures that he left to the town of Taxco. For more information about Spratling visit the www.SpratlingSilver.com
Each November, during the last week of the month, Taxco honors its source of wealth and fame with the world famous Silver Fair (or Feria Nacional de La Plata in Spanish), when the craftsmen, artists and silversmiths show their work and a national prize is awarded to the best silver artist of the Fair.
When in Taxco you may want to visit the Spratling Museum, the Museo Virreynal de Taxco (3 stories divided into sections showing different periods of time and people in Taxco's history, many artifacts displayed were recently found in a hidden chamber of a local church during restoration), and of course don't miss the Santa Prisca Cathedral. Visit the www.taxco-today.com
website for more about what is going in Taxco today, and learn more about the interesting history of silver in Taxco.